According to a lawsuit filed in court against the county this week, Alameda County’s efforts to ensure minority-owned and female-owned businesses are part of public works contracts violate the constitutions of the US and California.
Lawyers for a San Diego group called the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation say that both the Alameda County Public Works Agency and its General Services Agency oversee similar programs that “force general contractors to discriminate against subcontractors.” are” if they are not minority-owned.
“The government should not choose winners and losers based on race or color,” Chunhua Liao said in a statement. Alameda County resident and activist Liao is the plaintiff in the case.
County programs — which mandate contractors working on many Alameda County projects to commit at least 15% of work done by minority-owned businesses and at least 5% by women-owned businesses — to “Govt. sanctioned racial discrimination”. According to the July 25 lawsuit.
Wayne Fa, a lawyer for the Pacific Legal Foundation who filed the complaint, said the programs violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution and California’s constitutional restriction on racial preferences.
Although the county refers to the programs as “participation goals”, the FA said in an interview that they act more like set-sides for minorities, and bring “racial quotas” into the public contract.
“If a prime contractor is not able to meet these targets, that prime contractor will be at risk of having their bid rejected,” Fa said.
The county allows contractors to obtain a contract if they do not meet the threshold, although only if they can prove they have made “good faith efforts” to find minority-owned contractors in the process, Joe Fa said that could open the door for fraud.
He also said that not meeting the threshold is a risky bet that general contractors generally do not want to take.
“This will compel the main contractor to choose a sub-contractor not because of the sub-contractor’s ability to perform the work, but simply because the sub-contractor is a minority owned business and their participation will help the prime contractor meet the targets. Will help,” Fa said.
He said that prevents subcontinents from being able to “compete fairly in the public contract arena”.
Fa said the lawsuit is intended to prompt Alameda County to eliminate participation target programs altogether and create a “transparent, fair and open contracting process.”
Bissa Grant, CEO of Anchor, an Oakland construction management and engineering firm that does business with Alameda County, said she thinks partnership goals should be put in place.
“Thank God they exist,” she said in an interview on Thursday.
Grant, a black woman, took over the business after working there for more than a decade in an executive role. She said county programs help level a playing field that has long been tilted.
“Otherwise we would be more like a youth football team starting from scratch than a private college that is historically well funded and they have a good network and all the resources. We have a chance to stand Won’t be,” she said.
“A lot of times, organizations like this are saying, ‘It’s not fair because we have to turn people away,'” Grant said of long-standing companies that have established networks of subcontractors whose Together they work.
“You turn us away anyway – we always get away. We’ve been turned away historically, there’s no mandate to avoid it. So for me, thank you” for county programs, she said.
“It gives a lot of light to shine on us, and gives us the opportunity to build a business, a viable business where we can employ people. People who can support families. Because this industry has been around for a long time. I have a leg to stand on in order to compete against the people who have been there,” she said.
The directors of the county’s General Services Agency and Public Works Agency and the Alameda County Attorney’s office did not respond to requests for comment regarding the lawsuit. Keith Carson, chairman of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, declined to comment because of the ongoing lawsuit.
“I hope these policies are legally compliant. If they are not, we will have to make adjustments,” supervisor David Hobert said in an interview.
He said Alameda is a “majority-minority county” and the percentage the county insists on for public contracts seems like a “reasonable target” to him.
“I stand by that intent, which is to help increase jobs for people who reflect those in our community,” he said.
Fa said that in addition to Liao, an activist, the other plaintiff in the case is Deborah Ferrari, a trucking industry consultant. Both Liao and Ferrari are residents of Alameda County.
California for Equal Rights is a group that was started in 2020 to oppose California Proposition 16, which would have rolled back the ban on affirmative action in California. Proposition 209, passed in 1996, prohibits affirmative action in public employment, public education, and public contracts.
Wenyuan Yu, the group’s executive director, said in an interview, “Proposition 16 was repealed in 2020, it’s a big win for us, but many public agencies are still trying to circumvent Proposition 209.” “
She said there is no “real empirical evidence” that women-owned businesses and minority-owned businesses have been harmed in public contracts or excluded since Proposition 209 came into effect.
“You can’t fight discrimination with more discrimination, and you can’t fight fire with fire,” she said.
Grant, who owns the engineering firm, said she appreciates Alameda County’s efforts to support minority-owned and women-owned businesses, even when the policies aren’t perfect.
“I think any system has its challenges, but instead of suing and getting rid of it, my experience says there are some things that should be mandated,” she said.
“I think the system should be strengthened, not weakened or taken away,” she said.